CICOA’s First Occupational Therapy Resident Was Inspired by Her Grandparents

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Sarah Baumgartner always knew she wanted to work with elderly people. She’s fascinated by their stories and passionate about helping them live independently.

“I have the most wonderful grandparents and am very close to them,” Sarah said. “I would rather hang out with them than anyone else.”

So, when it was time for her to consider a Capstone project to complete her doctorate in occupational therapy at Huntington University, she sought out a program working with seniors. In her search, she discovered CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions.

Field experience provides real-world understanding

CICOA had never hosted a resident before, but Dustin Ziegler, CICOA’s director of community programs, was willing to listen to Sarah’s ideas. The more he heard, the more he liked the idea of pairing an occupational therapy resident with CICOA’s care managers.

Sarah completed her 16-week residency this week.

“The collaboration between social workers and me was just so natural, we really fed off of each other,” Sarah said.

She offered ideas on different equipment that could help clients, and she learned from case workers about funding and the challenges that go along with it. She also learned a lot about the social determinants of health, something CICOA has been working to help better educate healthcare providers and the public about.

“I was really naïve before, and this experience has helped me understand how people live and the challenges low-income seniors face,” she said. “It was eye opening.”

For example, getting to the doctor’s office when you don’t drive is only the first obstacle.

“It’s about transportation, but maybe they didn’t eat that morning, and so many more things,” she said. “I think every health professional should have an experience like this, so they can see what’s happening outside of the doctor’s office. I didn’t grow up with those same issues or problems, and it’s very humbling.”

Giving the gift of independence

Sarah chose to become an occupational therapist to help people be independent again and help people re-learn everyday tasks that so many healthy people take for granted.

“Physical therapy will teach you how to walk again, and occupational therapy teaches you to dance again,” Sarah said. “It’s really rewarding in that way.”

While Sarah gained experience that will help her launch her career – she will begin work after her May graduation for a skilled nursing facility in Mooresville – CICOA gained experience to develop an occupational therapy residency program.

Adding an occupational therapist resident to CICOA

CICOA has entered into a partnership with the Indiana University School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences to host a doctoral resident every year beginning in 2020.

Adding an occupational therapy resident will help elevate services CICOA already provides while giving students real-world experiences.

“This is especially important since most of our field staff see things from a social work perspective and not from an occupational therapy perspective. Having the expertise of doctoral residents on hand is another way we can help our clients maximize their independence in home and community-based settings,” Zeigler said. “Sarah Baumgartner has set the bar very, very high.”

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